How do I remove all this icky adhesive from my floor?

Q. Is there an easy way to remove this layer of black stuff on my hardwood floor?

A. We often see this problem in kitchen floors. You’ll find a beautiful, original, 1920s maple hardwood floor buried under layers of vinyl or linoleum, plus a nasty layer of linoleum adhesive that has been embedded into the hardwood floor by years of foot traffic.

This can be sanded off, but it is worth trying to mechanically remove most of that glue first, especially if it is a thick layer.  Trust us, if there were a magic potion that removed all linoleum glues with ease, we would sell it to you.

Before you try scraping, our most successful method has been a plain, old-school wallpaper steamer. These can be rented cheaply at any general rental store, but can really loosen that layer of old cutback adhesive quickly.

If that is a bust, there are two other options for dissolving it before you start spending money on chemical strippers:


  • Pour a small amount of a cheap laundry detergent onto the old adhesive. Some grease or tar-based adhesives will dissolve or soften in the presence of soap. Again, you will have to scrape and wipe up the now-dissolved inky muck, but it will speed up the process.
  • Pour a 1/4 cup of paint thinner or turpentine directly onto the adhesive and leave it for 10 minutes. Some adhesives will respond to these cheap solvents. Paint thinner fumes are carcinogenenic, so if you decide to flood the whole floor with paint thinner, wear a respirator with organic fume cartridges and keep the windows open.
Woman removing adhesive from old kitchen wood floor

But sometimes, as in the photo above, just plain scraping turns out to be the best way to remove that adhesive, especially if it is dry and brittle.

Don’t bother removing every last shred of adhesive if you are planning to sand the floor. 

But also remember that it is perfectly acceptable to sand that adhesive off the floor. This is what those really coarse 12-grit or 16-grit sandpapers were designed for. Yes, they will gum up; that is a solution, not a problem!

Here’s a great example of trusting a 16-grit drum belt to do the job it was designed to do:

Bright sanded wood floor section of dark adhesive wood floor

And you can buy from Pete’s right now!

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Do you need advice for your specific hardwood floor problem?

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